Two weeks in the Sub-Continent

First day back in Sydney! After 16 days of travel in India and Thailand, we touched down at Kingsford Smith early this morning after a verry long red eye.  I appreciated the stopover in Singapore not only because we were ditching Jet Airways for a much bigger, nicer Qantas plane but because it was my first bite of sushi in over two weeks, I hadn’t even realized I’d missed Asian food!

I love going to India for the holidays.  North India can be bitterly cold in December and January but there’s nothing like the winter sun in Delhi.  Mottled sunlight, cashmere shawls, piping hot paranthas and mugs of spiced chai to warm those icy fingers and scald that throat.

This trip was particularly special because it centered around my brother’s wedding.  We got in a few short days of catching up and shopping before the start of the celebration and, coming as we were, from another friend’s nuptials in Thailand, were excited to play a bigger role in round 2 of big fat Indian wedding.

The wedding was an absolute blast and went by far too quickly.  We danced in a wonderful Sangeet, I mc-ed an event and gave a speech at the reception. We were relieved though to have it all be done. It’s been a hectic 24 months for my parents with both my brother and I getting married.

In showing a couple newcomers around Delhi, I reveled in old and new: Hauz Khas village, United Coffee House, saree and jewelry shopping in CP, India Gate.  I became well acquainted with the Delhi metro and they with Delhi auto-rickshaws.  Several friends took a day tour around the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, Old Delhi….so much to see (and eat…and shop)!

The day after the wedding, we headed off for our own version of the Golden Triangle tour.  A day and night in Agra, a couple days in Jaipur and a few nights in Udaipur before flying back to the capital.  We spent a lot of time on the road but it was well worth it.

I can always count on India for a “culture fix”.  Going there at the end of the year especially is something I value as a way to reconnect, rejuvenate and recalibrate.  Reflecting on my country’s rich history, traditions, spirituality, cuisine and diversity always fills me with awe. I took on the role of the Indian tour guide for my American husband and American friend this time and learned even more in the process.

Rajasthan, like Delhi is rich in history.  A thousand years of dynastic rulers gave us plenty to read about in history class. The Mughal period is well captured and renowned, both through its iconic architecture and through depictions in contemporary movies and books. Rajasthani history, is esoteric by comparison.

A refresher on the alliances between the Mughal emperors in the North with the Rajput kings of Jaipur and Amer against the rulers of Mewar and Udaipur provided a rich backdrop to the magnificent palaces and forts that we visited.  Add to that the beautiful local traditions of Persian carpet weaving (Agra), silver and precious stone jewelry making (Jaipur) and miniature painting (Udaipur) and it was an unforgettable trip.

A highlight for me was the Jaipur observatory or Jantar Mantar (literally “calculation instrument”) in Hindi.  One of five observatories built under King Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur, the Jantar Mantar consists of 14 larger than life structures crafted from local stone and marble.  The sophistication and sheer scale of these instruments will blow you away, it’s a must see. After Jaipur, we rocked up to a New Year’s Eve party in Udaipur close to midnight.  Seven stationery hours in the car had prepared us for the feast that followed.  The celebrations had taken on Indian wedding like proportions, complete with over the top buffet, obnoxious DJ and beautiful fireworks. A good start to the year!

Udaipur turned out to be very different from Agra and Jaipur.  For starters, there weren’t very many people and India’s “burgeoning middle class” seemed missing.  Udaipur seemed a sleepy town, almost hill station like: immaculately clean for India, very very expensive and wholly dependent on tourism.

We had so much fun and even (mostly) avoided getting sick 😉  Till next year, India!